States That Border the Mississippi River

The Second Longest River in North America

Steamboat River Boat Natchez docked on the Mississippi River in New Orleans French quarter

 Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in the United States and fourth-longest in the world. The river is about 2,320 miles (3,734 km) long and its drainage basin covers an area of 1,151,000 square miles (2,981,076 sq km). The source of the Mississippi River is believed to be Lake Itasca in Minnesota and its mouth the ​Gulf of Mexico.

There are a number of tributaries large and small that flow into the river, including the Ohio, Missouri, and Red rivers. The river doesn't just border states, it creates borders (or partial borders) for several states. The Mississippi River drains about 41% of United States water.

These are the 10 states that you would pass through if you were to travel from north to south down the river. The area, population, and capital city of each state have been included for reference. The population estimates were reported by the United States Census Bureau in 2018.

Minnesota

Skyline, St Paul, Minnesota

Don Romero/Getty Images 

  • Area: 79,610 square miles (206,190 sq km)
  • Population: 5,611,179
  • Capital: St. Paul

The headwaters of the Mississippi River have historically been recorded as being in Lake Itasca, in the northern part of the state of Minnesota. There is some disagreement amongst geologists about whether this is really the river's beginning—some say that the headwaters might be in North Dakota—but Minnesota is generally accepted as the northernmost state that touches the river.

Wisconsin

Aerial of Mississippi River, La Crosse, WI

Ed Lallo/Getty Images 

  • Area: 54,310 square miles (140,673 sq km)
  • Population: 5,813,568
  • Capital: Madison

Wisconsin and four other states co-manage the Upper Mississippi River, which comprises about 1,250 miles (2,012 km) of the Mississippi's length and includes all water north of Cairo, Illinois. There are 33 river towns along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

Iowa

Mississippi river

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images 

  • Area: 56,272 square miles (145,743 sq km)
  • Population: 3,156,145
  • Capital: Des Moines

Iowa takes advantage of its location by offering riverboat rides on the Mississippi River in several cities. These include Burlington, Bettendorf, Clinton, Davenport, Dubuque, and Marquette. Many riverboats are rented and docked through casinos.

Illinois

Alton Bridge Over Mississippi River, Illinois, USA

 Danita Delimont/Getty Images

  • Area: 55,584 square miles (143,963 sq km)
  • Population: 12,741,080
  • Capital: Springfield

Illinois has the largest population of all Mississippi River border states but not the greatest total area. The Lower Mississippi River begins and the Upper Mississippi River ends in Cairo, Illinois. This state, called "the Prairie State", features Chicago, one of the largest and most populous cities in the U.S.

Missouri

St. Louis Arch Beyond Eads Bridge at Sunset

Kelly/Mooney Photography/Getty Images 

  • Area: 68,886 square miles (178,415 sq km)
  • Population: 6,126,452
  • Capital: Jefferson City

In Missouri, you can visit St. Louis to see where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. To the surprise of many, the Missouri River is slightly longer than the Mississippi River, making it the longest river system in the United States.

Kentucky

Freight train traveling on bridge, Ohio River near Mississippi River junction, Kentucky, USA

 Danita Delimont/Getty Images

  • Area: 39,728 square miles (102,896 sq km)
  • Population: 4,468,402
  • Capital: Frankfort

A portion of Kentucky bordered by the Mississippi River, known as the "Kentucky Bend", is accessible by land only through Tennessee. It is a small peninsula that technically belongs to Kentucky but is not in physical contact with the state at all.

When surveyors were first delineating the boundaries between the states of Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, their estimates of where the ​Mississippi River would meet their line was off. The river snaked where it was expected to be a more direct path through the states and this was only discovered by surveyors after their borders were already finalized—they gave the unconnected hunk of land to Kentucky.

Tennessee

Tennessee, Nashville, Maybe Bob Dylan was on to something: The Mississippi River flows by the Nashville Skyline at dawn.

Dean Dixon/Getty Images 

  • Area: 41,217 square miles (106,752 sq km)
  • Population: 6,770,010
  • Capital: Nashville

A Tennessee trip down the Mississippi ends in Memphis, where you could travel through scenic country featuring the Chickasaw Bluffs on the western side of Tennessee past the site of a Civil War battle, an area now called Fort Pillow State Park.

Arkansas

Mud Island River Park, Hernando de Soto Bridge across Mississippi River to Arkansas.

Stephen Saks/Getty Images 

  • Area: 52,068 square miles (134,856 sq km)
  • Population: 3,013,825
  • Capital: Little Rock

In Arkansas, the Mississippi River crosses the Delta region of the South. There are no fewer than four major state parks along this southern state's river frontage. Learn about agriculture on your next visit to Arkansas.

Mississippi

River boat casino on Mississippi river

 Franz Aberham/Getty Images

  • Area: 46,907 square miles (121,489 sq km)
  • Population: 2,986,530
  • Capital: Jackson

Mississippi's extensive river region is the birthplace of the Delta blues and it contains Delta swamps, bayous, and wetlands. The Mississippi Delta, in the northwest section of the state, is considered "the most southern place on earth" and boasts a rich history. You can visit Vicksburg to see the site of an important Civil War battle.

Louisiana

Paddlewheeler Pier at Dusk

Richard Cummins/Getty Images 

  • Area: 43,562 square miles (112,826 sq km)
  • Population: 4,659,978
  • Capital: Baton Rouge 

Historic Louisiana cities Baton Rouge and New Orleans are both Mississippi River cities. The river empties south of New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to hosting the river's mouth, Louisiana—Algiers Point in New Orleans, to be exact—features the river's deepest section of 200 feet.